On a breezy day in July, Whiz, Horace with friend, Queasy, Mavis and I set out for our first foreign holiday since Mavis’s birth. We had rented a villa in Poitou, Western France which we planned to share with Whiz’s sister, Fret and her husband, Fender.
The place was called a villa and not a gite because it was not owned by French people. This distinction did not affect our choice as we were more interested in the number of bedrooms and the swimming pool, shared with the owners’.
After a long ferry crossing and several hours’ drive we turned onto the track of a beautiful old house in its own grounds, resplendent with swimming pool and boules pitch. A vegetable patch bursting with tomatoes, courgettes and other more exotic vegetables dominated the lawn and all we could see for miles and miles were fields and gentle hills.
The owners, welcoming and warm, came out to greet us and show us round our home-for-the-week. On the ground floor were a huge kitchen/dining/living area with flagged floors and an enormous stone fire place you could stand up in, a rather damp smelling double bedroom with en suite bathroom, another bedroom, a shower room and separate toilet .There was also a hallway with a door to the outside, staircase to the upper floor and a door to the owners apartment next door. Upstairs were a games room with table tennis table, a large landing with various games stacked in one corner including a set of boules, skittles and children’s toys. There were a bathroom, shower room and three more bedrooms including the one Whiz and I took for ourselves. This was truly enormous. It had a double and single bed and if the rest of the family had joined us with their beds and there would still have been plenty of room.
Outside, at the back, was a patio area with a vine covered pergola over with table under. There were speakers wired to a stereo system in the hallway and a large, brick barbecue.
Delighted with everything, we couldn’t wait to buy some baguettes, fromage and vin and head for the piscine. Our hospitable hosts left us to settle in saying that they would pop back that evening to give us the low down on local attractions, caves and restaurants.
Accordingly there was a tap on the door after dinner and in they came with a welcoming bottle of wine. It transpired that they were both ex-teachers, he Physics, she French. They had met each other late in life and, having both owned their own homes, they had pooled their resources and raised the money to buy this property. Frenchy was Welsh, from South Wales and Fiz was English. The villa had needed quite a lot of restoration work and successive groups of friends had helped them renovate it in exchange for a free holiday. When they decided to install a pool they had to rent out half the house to cover the cost. They were used to living in our part of the house and only moved out when guests were due.
Frenchy and Fiz helpfully pointed us to local information in the Visitors’ Book, and directed us to caves down the road where we could purchase Chateau Neuf du Pape for 40p per litre. It was then that it began to dawn on us that we had moved to Mallory Towers for the week. They began to explain the rules:
- We would notice that there was an inventory in every cupboard and for the games on the landing. When we left this would be checked and missing items would need to be replaced.
- There was a sheet on each bed between the bottom sheet and the duvet. Please do not remove it as it saved washing the duvet covers. Please make sure that the girls kept to this rule as well.
- Don’t play in the games room as it was directly over their living room and the noise was terrible.
- Do not make too much noise on the patio in the evening as their bedroom overlooked it
- Rubbish must be sorted: fruit and veg. in the compost bin, Recycling in a skip in the village
- Please ensure that the place was cleaned when we left
‘Well, they’re typical teachers’ observed Fret, a lab assistant at her local secondary school. We wandered, slightly less euphorically, over the house and noted little computer generated signs everywhere reminding us of the rules. My instinct? To break every one of them!
‘Oh well,’ we thought, ‘there’s no point in worrying about this’ and after a few more drinks we went to bed.
Beds and Other Things
One of the things of which we had been assured was that the bed in our room had, at great expense, been replaced very recently and was extremely comfortable. Imagine our surprise therefore when we climbed in and both rolled like boules into the middle where the dip was so pronounced that we found it almost impossible to part. After clinging to our respective sides for a while we gave up, clonked together and drifted into a sweaty and restless sleep.
The next morning a jovial Fiz was passing the front door as I went for a breath of fresh air. ‘Did you sleep well?’ he asked confidently. When I explained about the bed he was flabbergasted. This bed was almost new, he would have to take it back to the shop. He assured us he would sort it out and I told him not to bother, we would put the mattress on the floor, there was plenty of room.
We took off for the day to explore the neighbourhood and returned for a swim in the middle of the afternoon. I swung up the stairs toward our room but was halted in my tracks on the landing by the sight of a pair of naked, hairy legs sticking out from under the bed. My first, slightly bizarre thought was that it was a corpse; my exclamation must have been audible because Fiz’s head and fully clothed body extricated themselves apologetically.
As he rose inelegantly to his feet and dusted his bare knees he explained that he had been checking what had happened to the bed. He thought that the previous occupants, a couple of boys, had bounced on it. His explanation did little to quieten my beating heart or banish my dismay. This was our bedroom, surely these people didn’t plan to waltz in and out of our home whenever they pleased! After he had left I changed into my swim suit and headed for the pool to join the others. Frenchy and Fiz came out too and soon began to bombard us with more rules: Don’t let the children climb on the sun loungers (B & Q’s best), no glass in the pool enclosure, keep the gate shut, oh I don’t know what else.
Later on that afternoon Frenchy offered us some freshly picked vegetables from the garden and was very disapproving when Fret and I declined with thanks saying that we had no intention of cooking the kind of meals that needed carrots and peas, it was our holiday. It would save us money she insisted, they would be very nutritious, we really should reconsider. This was a lady used to getting her own way and although Fret was on the brink of succumbing, I was made of sterner stuff and firmly bid her good afternoon.
The rest of the week was spent very enjoyably wandering the beautiful French countryside, driving along virtually empty roads, dining in woodland restaurants and swimming in the pool. Mavis swam a length with her arm bands on and then to make things perfect, a family (friends of the owners and former renovators with much gossip to impart) moved into the Piggery next door. They had two thirteen year old boys with them and after that we didn’t see Horace and Queasy for dust
Now is the Hour
And so came the last night. We, full of Chateau Neuf du Pape but clearly unable to finish the copious quantities we had purchased in the local caves, invited all and sundry to a farewell drink and nibbles under the vines on our patio. We put on the music – not too loudly, put out nuts and olives and poured the wine. Fiz and Frenchy, their Piggery friends with the boys, Fret and Fender, our girls and Wiz and I gathered under a balmy night and proceeded to imbibe the left overs. The evening was going swimmingly, we were all getting to know each other better with the aid of the wine, our girls were quietly getting ratted on the other side of the table but I was oblivious, concentrating too hard on keeping a bland expression while Fiz and Frenchy explained that guests who came to stay, never came back again despite promises that they would. I couldn’t think of anything to say – not like me at all.
Fiz had to get up early the next morning to collect his son and spouse from the airport so, as she was going to be on her own on change-over day, Fenchy cornered Fret to ask her if she would strip the beds before we left the next day. Fret reluctantly concurred but I was damned if I was going to do ours.
The teachers went to bed and the rest of us carried on carousing quietly. After about half an hour a curlered head appeared at the window, ‘Could you keep the noise down, you know Fiz has to get up in the morning’. As we had only been chatting, this was difficult. The main subject of the ensuing conversation was hissed complaint about our landlady. The ‘friends’ gleefully related that she had always been thus and that poor Fiz was a lovely bloke. They wondered how he put up with her, she was also very tight fisted. It was most enjoyable. After a little while of whispering, the volume rose again to normal.
Once again the head appeared ‘Could we have a bit more consideration’ etc. etc. .The party continued. Then, horror of horrors, Queasy was sick in the bedroom. Oh bugger, can’t leave a smell of puke, we’d never hear the last of it. I swayed upstairs with bucket and cloth to clean up. When I got down again the curlered head complete with dressing gowned body had emerged from their apartment through the adjoining door. It was bristling with irritation. I sneaked into the kitchen to hide the bucket before sauntering back with an innocent expression on my face to hear Frenchy verbally berating everyone for being in the holiday spirit when decent people were in their beds. Ah well, we were tired anyway and we had a long drive in the morning – once we had survived our inventory check and bedroom inspections. Better hit the sack. Better squirt the girls’ carpet with perfume to be on the safe side.
I‘ll be Tickled to Death
The following day we were all nursing various degrees of hangover. I can confidently say that Queasy was suffering the most and spent most of the morning prone on the settee looking very pale and groaning intermittently. The rest of us were too busy packing and counting items to have much compassion. I was particularly unsympathetic as the smell of vomit still pervaded the bedroom and I had to scrub the carpet once again.
Fret had obediently stripped their bed. I had not. I said I would deal with Frenchy, I was ready for battle, hangover or no!
As Fret and Fender set off in their car to take the recycling to the skips some ridiculous distance away I told Frenchy that we were ready for inspection.
As I ushered her into our ‘home’ it was clear that she was flustered, worrying about all the work she had to do before the next occupants arrived. The first thing she asked was whether we had stripped our beds. I told her firmly that although Fret had done hers, I was not prepared to do the rest. This did not go down well. ‘Well, we can do it together while we check the rooms’, she tried, very ruffled. I stood firm. ‘You can do it as we go round if you like but please be quick as we have a ferry to catch’. Have you ever seen a teacher flounce?
Things got worse when we got to the girls’ room to discover that they had not kept their sheets on their beds, Frenchy would have to wash the duvet covers as well as the sheets. She was not amused. ‘And was one of them sick last night?’ she demanded. I am slightly ashamed to report that I lied through my teeth, the smell now having been eliminated. Not only did I lie but I then had to make my excuses and rush down to the languishing Queasy to make sure she kept to the story. ‘OK Queasy, just remember this, YOU WERE NOT SICK LAST NIGHT. OK?’
I rushed back to the fray. Frenchy was counting the boules, all seemed in order.
Down to the kitchen and more counting, she didn’t notice that one of the cups had a missing handle. Phew!
Finally, with some arguing, we were handed our deposit and Whiz, Horace, Mavis, Queasy and I settled ourselves in the car to wait for Fret and Fender to return so that we could all leave together.
We were all chatting when Frenchy came piling round the corner of the house, guns blazing. There had been a set of boules in a cupboard in Mavis’s room. The empty case was there but the boules were missing, we must go back and find them! Even mild mannered Whiz was irritated enough to observe that they were not in any inventory so how could we have known, but he still followed the woman obediently back round the corner to look for the offending articles. I followed, feet dragging. As I rounded the corner two boules had been retrieved from a flower bed and Frenchy was heading inside complaining ‘This is what happens you see, people just don’t look after things and we end up searching high and low after they’ve gone’. As she disappeared up the stairs still in full flood. I leapt into action: ‘Whiz, quick, run for it!’ I hissed and, feeling like a couple of recalcitrant scholars, we charged back to the car where Queasy was out of her seat and getting a bit of fresh air. ‘Queasy’, I yelled ‘Get back in the car, NOW!’ She threw herself in and we leapt into the front. Tyres spinning we reversed out of our spot to see Fret and Fender coming towards us down the drive. I wound down the window ‘Get out of here!’ I yelled and, ever quick on the uptake, they spun the car round and we all left the premises in a less than dignified cloud of dust. I think Frenchy was still complaining, back in the house.
We giggled for miles until Queasy announced rather urgently that she was about to be sick. Having experienced on a previous holiday one of Horace’s friends vomiting in the car or at least out of the window in the one way system of a large city, I was keen to stop. Queasy was dispatched onto the verge with a helpful shove to the rear.
I should explain that the previous puker was not suffering from the after effects of alcohol, I wouldn’t want the reader to think that we are in the habit of allowing minors to imbibe while in our care. No, the previous child was suffering from a breakfast of marsh mallows and love hearts. I can testify to this having scraped the remains from the petrol filler cap and rear wing of my car before filling up with petrol later in the day.
Anyway, once Queasy was emptied of all contents, we resumed our journey and made fairly good progress until lunchtime when we judged it would be safe and advisable to refill her with more nutritious ingredients. Our last meal of the holiday and very enjoyable it was. And long! When we next looked at our watches we had about 40 minutes to get to the ferry port and 100 miles to drive.
The final lap of the journey was fast, exciting and tense. We arrived at the ferry port half an hour late but fortunately for us the ferry had been delayed. We were directed to the end of the still waiting, line of cars. Eventually we trickled toward the waiting ferry still not knowing whether there would be room for us. There was, just, and as the ferry door closed behind us, almost touching our rear bumper, we all agreed that this was a holiday never to be forgotten. And never to be repeated!